Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville surveyed the Auburn University football complex from the high ground on the coach's tower in the middle of the team's practice fields and liked what he saw on Tuesday.
Tuberville opened his fifth season as head coach of the Tigers with a two-hour workout in helmets and sweat clothes with no pads. The workout was mainly a teaching session for the position coaches.
"There are more athletes out here, especially linemen," Tuberville noted with a smile on the opening day of spring drills on a very un-spring-like day with a cold rain falling from the start to the finish of the workout. "Having all of these linemen is very good to see and we have more good ones coming in the fall."
The head coach spent a lot of his first practice day watching one of the few position moves that the staff has made this spring. Steven Ross, a redshirt sophomore, spent Tuesday's practice at tight end. Although he won't be mistaken for returnee Cooper Wallace, the head coach gave the initial performance by Ross at the position a thumbs up rating. Ross didn't catch every wet ball thrown his way, but he did show potential as a pass catcher.
Ross could also see action at weak tackle behind Mark Pera or at center behind Danny Lindsey, who was at the workout but wearing a walking cast to protect a foot that needed surgery back in January. Junior walk-on Jeremy Ingle got plenty of work at center and will get much of the time with the No. 1 offense this spring while Lindsey heals. Ingle will be backed up by redshirt freshmen Will Ward and Joe Cope, one of the more impressive walk-ons on the field.
On Tuesday, a familiar name to Auburn football fans was also learning the system at center. Redshirt sophomore Taylor Bourgeois, who opened the 2002 season as the starting tight tackle ahead of Marcus McNeill, is recovering from shoulder surgery that ended his season prematurely last year. Although he won't be ready for contact until August, Bourgeois has recovered enough to go through some of the non-contact drills like the ones the Tigers participated in on Tuesday. When he is fully recovered, Bourgeois will be able to challenge for playing time at any position on the offensive front.
Practice two on Wednesday will be another non-contact session. The pads will go on Thursday, but no tackling to the ground will be allowed until practice four, which is a Saturday scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. That is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m., about 30 minutes into the practice. Approximately 400 to 500 high school coaches from around the southeast are expected to attend the Thursday practice and the Saturday scrimmage while in town for AU's spring coaching clinic.
Tuberville also spent time on Tuesday watching the running backs group that once again featured Jake Slaughter in the mix at fullback. The redshirt sophomore inherits the No. 2 spot behind Brandon Johnson, the returning senior starter. Slaughter played fullback last fall before returning to linebacker during the season. He was expected to challenge for playing time this spring at middle linebacker where Mark Brown is gone, but the coaches made a late decision before drills started to move Slaughter back to offense.
Tiger coaches told Inside the Auburn Tigers that the move could be a permanent one. With Victor Horn no longer part of the team and backup fullbacks Michael Owens and Marshall Thornton being seniors last season, Slaughter and Johnson are the two full-time fullbacks for the spring, although position coach Eddie Gran says he plans to teach tailbacks Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Brandon Jacobs the position.
Williams, who is coming off of surgery to repair a broken bone in his leg, ran well on Tuesday. "He is not 100 percent, but he is running hard," Tuberville said. "We just want to make sure he gets a lot of confidence running on his leg, cutting, having somebody in front of him and maybe having to jump over some people. We will put him in a scrimmage or two, but it will basically be in a situation where he will have to block somebody rather than getting tackled. That will be basically all he will do."
Jake Slaughter (44) and Brandon Jacobs (44) stayed busy in Tuesday's practice.
Tuberville hinted that there could be some more position changes later in the spring. "We are going to make a couple of other changes, but we won't do that until after Saturday," Tuberville said. "We are going to work with mostly younger guys the next few days. If the older guys get any scrimmage time it will probably be Saturday. After Saturday, it will be kind of downhill for them. They will get a lot of work, but it won't be a lot of scrimmage time.
The first practice of the spring featured work on punting and field goals. Philip Yost did a good job of kicking and also saw some duty as a punter. Redshirt freshman Michael Gibson had a good start to the spring.
"I am really excited about Michael Gibson and his new technique of punting," Tuberville said. "He went from a three-step to a one-and-a-half step and his leg looked real strong. It looks he has a chance to be a good punter. We will just have to see how consistent he is because what we are looking for--consistency."
Jason Campbell participates in his first day of pratice under the direction of a new position coach, Steve Ensminger, who watches the returning starter.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Quarterbacks Jason Campbell and backup Josh Sullivan are off limits to contact. Tuberville says the coaches haven't decided if that will be the case with freshmen Wesley Hill and Brandon Cox. Campbell and Sullivan clearly have the strongest arms of the QB candidates. Sullivan, who is also playing baseball, has football as the No. 1 priority. He did not make the baseball team's road trip to Samford on Tuesday and will not go to North Carolina this weekend.